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Money Matters

Money Matters in Moscow For much of the nineties, Moscow came high on lists of the world's most expensive cities, and foreign visitors were often shocked at the prices charged in restaurants and hotels, by airport taxi drivers, and in supermarkets selling Western produce. Things have changed, however, and although prices are higher than elsewhere in Russia most services that visitors are likely to use are favorably priced in comparison with capitals in Western Europe.

• CURRENCY QUESTIONS

Since the crash of 1998, the Russian ruble has remained fairly stable and, for now, stands at just under 30 rubles to the US dollar, or just over 35 rubles to the euro. One ruble is 100 kopeks, and denominations are as follows: Notes - 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 rubles; Coins - 1, 5, 10 and 50 kopeks, 1, 2 and 5 rubles. Why one kopek coins exist is something of a mystery, but they're quite fun to keep.

It is illegal to charge for goods or services in any currency other than rubles, and no longer will taxi drivers happily take your dollars off you. Nonetheless, salaries and rents are more often than not quoted 'unofficially' in dollars. You will also find some stores, bars and restaurants quoting prices in 'y.e.', which means 'standard units', convertible to rubles at a rate set by the establishment and normally somewhere between the dollar and the euro. Make sure you know what the rate is in each place.

Changing money is easy - Moscow probably has more exchange centers per square mile than any other city in the world, many of them operation 24-hour. This also means that rates are normally competitive, and it's worth shopping around if you want to change a lot. Commission is normally negligible. This only applies to dollars and euros, though, and other currencies are normally only changeable at larger banks or central exchange offices.

• HOW TO BRING MONEY TO RUSSIA

As it's impossible to buy rubles outside Russia, you will probably need to bring a certain amount of cash in euros or dollars - the two most readily exchangeable currencies. Otherwise, the easiest way to access funds is through ATM machines once you get to Moscow. Machines have sprung up all over the city in the last few years, and can be found in the lobbies of most hotels, in metro stations and, of course, next to banks. The flat-rate charges are small, and exchange rates are normally reasonable (although there's little way of checking beforehand).

Traveller's cheques are, of course, a safe option, but harder to exchange in Moscow than in most tourist destinations. American Express are your best bet, and can be changed at their offices 21a, Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya Ulitsa.

Credit cards are accepted at an ever increasing number of shops and restaurants, particularly of the more up-market variety, although their systems can be temperamental. Visa and MasterCard are most widely accepted, and AmEx and Diner's Club are not as useful.

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